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Life can present all kinds of stressful situations, ranging from mundane, everyday stresses like running late for work, or more extreme stressors like being chased by a wild animal.
When you experience stress, you might get a headache or a churning stomach. You might snap at your kids, cry more easily, think negative or depressing thoughts, or get tunnel vision. These signs are your body’s way of saying, “What is going on?!”
When there is a perceived danger, our body releases a surge of hormones — this is a normal, physical response to stress that helps us prepare to take action. These hormones can cause our heart rate to increase, breathing to speed up, blood pressure to rise, blood sugars to rise, digestion to slow down and blood to rush to our muscles.
At one time, these responses helped our ancestors to survive. When being chased by a man-eating predator, they needed to be able to fight back or run away. Luckily, nowadays most of us are not surrounded by those kinds of dangers.
The problem is, our body still responds as if we are. Our nervous systems aren’t very good at knowing the difference between emotional and physical threats — whether you are stressed over a mountain of bills or a fierce tiger. Your body can react in the same way.
The more our stress response is activated, the more easily it gets triggered and the harder it is to shut off. Over time, the increased hormone levels from chronic stress can cause harmful changes to occur in our body, including heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory problems and more.
But we don’t have to get stressed out about it. The risks of stress can be offset by learning to manage stress in healthy ways. First, pay attention to your sources of stress, and learn to notice your stress symptoms (including physical symptoms, thoughts or feelings). Then, practice simple strategies for interrupting the stress response.
Parenting Now Parenting Educator Michael Finlay suggests:
Take a deep breath or multiple breaths
Name the emotions and feelings coming up (“name it to tame it!”)
Take an adult timeout: Remove yourself from the situation if safe to do so
Parenting Educator Jen Nelson, who facilitates Make Parenting A Pleasure courses for families in Florence, also recommends:
When we feel stress, it is for a reason. It is not helpful to blame ourselves or ignore our stress. What helps is to recognize and accept the feeling, then take steps to respond in helpful ways.
This article is adapted from Parenting Now’s Make Parenting A Pleasure, Second Edition curriculum. Parenting Now is a nonprofit offering groups and workshops so that all children are raised by nurturing, skilled parents. Contact Parenting Now at parentingnow.org, on social media and at 541-484-5316.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Parenting Now: Tips for understanding our stress responses